Exploring Chinese History
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Neolithic and Bronze Age Cultures


The Dawenkou culture (Chinese: 大汶口文化; Pinyin: Dàwènkǒu wénhuà)

(test)Name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities who lived primarily in Shandong, but also appeared in Anhui, Henan and Jiangsu provinces. The culture existed from 4100 BCE to 2600 BCE, co-existing with the Yangshao culture. The earliest discovery of alligator drums appear at Dawenkou sites.

The Erligang culture (Chinese: 二里岡文化; Pinyin: Èrlĭgǎng wénhuà) (1600 - 1400 BCE)

Term used by archaeologists to refer to a Bronze Age archaeological culture in China. The primary site was discovered at Erligang, just outside of the modern city of Zhengzhou, Henan, in 1951.
Many Chinese archaeologists believe that Zhengzhou was the site of an early Shang capital, equating the Erligang culture with an early stage of the Shang Dynasty. The city was surrounded by a large wall with a circumference of almost 7 km. Large workshops were located outside of the city walls, including a bone workshop, a pottery workshop and two bronze vessel workshops. The modern city sits on the remains of the Erligang city, rendering archaeological excavations impossible. Therefore, most of the information about the Erligang culture comes from studying other Erligang sites.
The Erligang culture was centered in the Yellow River valley. Erligang was the first archaeological culture in China to show widespread use of bronze vessel castings. In its early years, the culture suddenly expanded rapidly, reaching the Yangtze River, as evidenced by the largesite at Panlongcheng in Hubei. Since Zhengzhou lacked access to local bronze metals, sites like Panlongcheng were probably used to secure distant metal resources. The culture then gradually shrank from its early peak.
The Erligang culture was influenced by the Erlitou culture, as its bronzes developed from the style and techniques of the Erlitou culture. During the Erligang culture, the style of the bronze vessels became much more uniform than under the Erlitou culture; the use of bronze vessels also became much more widespread.

The Hongshan culture (Chinese: 紅山文化; Pinyin: Hóngshān wénhuà)

Neolithic culture in northeastern China. Hongshan sites have been found in an area stretching from Inner Mongolia to Liaoning and Hebei, and date from c. 4700 - c. 2900 BCE. The culture is named after Hongshanhou (红山後), a site in Hongshan District, Chifeng. Hongshanhou was discovered by Torii Ryuzo in 1908 and extensively excavated in 1935 by Hamada Kosaku and Mizuno Seiichi.
Hongshan grave goods include some of the earliest known examples of Chinese jade working; the Hongshan culture is known for its jade pig dragons. Clay figurines, including figurines of pregnant women, are also found throughout Hongshan sites. The archaeological site at Niuheliang is an unique ritual complex associated with the Hongshan culture.
The Hongshan culture had cultural contacts with the Yangshao culture, with two-way cultural transmissions.

The Longshan culture (Chinese: 龍山文化; Pinyin: Lóngshān wénhuà)

Late Neolithic culture centered on the central and lower Yellow River in China. Longshan culture is named after Longshan, Shandong Province, the first excavated site of this culture. It is dated from about 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE.

The distinctive feature of Longshan culture was the high level of skill in pottery making, including the use of pottery wheels. Longshan culture was noted for its highly polished black pottery (or egg-shell pottery) and is often referred to as the 'Black Pottery Culture' for this reason.

Gallery: Eggshell pottery/blackware is made of sandy clay, which results in a pottery with extremely thin walls. Pieces are polished and then coated with a black slip, resulting in an extremely smooth finish. Neolithic period; Longshan Culture.

  • Longshan Culture Blackware

    Height 17cm, Mouth diameter 11.9cm.
    From Yaoguanzhuang site, Weifang City, Shandong Province, 1960.
    Wine vessel or ritual artifact with bamboo-shaped handle.

  • Longshan Culture Blackware

    Height 18.3cm, Mouth diameter 28cm.
    From Yaoguanzhuang site, Weifang City, Shandong Province, 1960.
    Food container with bamboo-shaped stem.

  • Longshan Culture Blackware

    Height 18.5cm, Mouth diameter 26cm.
    From Yaoguanzhuang site, Weifang City, Shandong Province, 1960.
    Bowl with three beak-shaped feet.

  • Longshan Culture Blackware

    Height 16cm, Mouth diameter 23.9cm, Bottom diameter 17.9cm.
    From Tongyu, Anqiu County, Shandong Province, 1957.
    Four figures of bamboo on the belly, turn-up mouth, flat base.

  • Longshan Culture Blackware

    Height 12.5cm, Mouth diameter 7.8cm, Bottom diameter 4.5cm.
    From Yaoguanzhuang site, Weifang City, Shandong Province, 1960.
    Cup with a straight mouth, long neck, and flat bottom. Two ears join the belly and the body is decorated with several sunk line designs.

Life during the Longshan culture marked a transition to the establishment of cities, as rammed earth walls and moats began to appear, the site at Taosi being its largest walled settlement. Rice cultivation was clearly established by that time.
The Neolithic population in China reached its peak during the Longshan culture. Toward the end of the Longshan culture, the population decreased sharply; this was matched by the disappearance of high-quality black pottery found in ritual burials.
Early studies indicated that the Longshan and Yangshao cultures were one in the same. It is now widely accepted that the Longshan culture is in fact a later development of the Yangshao culture.

The Majiayao culture (Chinese: 馬家窯文化; Pinyin: Măjīayáo wénhuà)

Name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River region in Gansu and Qinghai provinces. The culture existed from 3100 BCE to 2700 BCE. The earliest discoveries of copper and bronze objects in China occur at Majiayao sites.

The Peiligang culture (Chinese: 裴李崗文化; Pinyin: Péilĭgāng wénhuà)

Name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities who lived in the Yiluo river valley in Henan Province, China. The culture existed from 7000 BCE to 5000 BCE. Over 70 sites have been identified with the Peiligang culture. The culture is named after the site discovered in 1977 at Peiligang. Archaeologists believe that the Peiligang culture was egalitarian, with little political organization.
The culture practiced agriculture in the form of millet farming and animal husbandry in the form of pig raising. The culture is also one of the oldest in ancient China to make pottery.
The site at Jiahu is one of the earliest sites associated with this culture.

The Qijia culture (Chinese: 齊家文化; Pinyin: Qíjiā wénhuà)

Early Bronze Age culture (2400 BCE- 1900 BCE) distributed around the upper Yellow River region of western Gansu and eastern Qinghai, China. Johan Gunnar Andersson discovered the initial site at Qijiaping (齊家坪) in 1923. During the late stages of the culture, the Qijia culture retreated from the west and suffered a reduction in population size. Qijia culture produced some of the earliest bronze and copper mirrors found in China. Extensive domestication of horses are found at many Qijia sites.
The archaeological site at Lajia is associated with the Qijia culture.

The Wucheng culture (Chinese: 吳城文化; Pinyin: Wúchéng wénhuà)

Bronze Age culture in Jiangxi province. The initial site at Wucheng, located on the Gan River, was first excavated in 1973. The Wucheng culture probably developed in response to cultural contacts with the expanding Erligang culture, melding Erligang influences with local traditions. The Wucheng culture was a distinct contemporary of Sanxingdui and Yinxu and is known for its distinct geometric pottery and bronze bells, the clapperless nao. The Wucheng site at Xin'gan contains a rich cache of localized bronze vessels. Wucheng pottery contained inscriptions which may be an undeciphered script.

The Yangshao culture (Chinese: 仰韶文化; Pinyin: Yǎngsháo wénhuà)

Funerary urn.
Pottery decorated with red and black slip.
Excavated at Panshan, Kansu.
Fig 3

Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the central Yellow River in China. The Yangshao culture is dated from around 5000 BC to 3000 BC. The culture is named after Yangshao, the first excavated representative village of this culture, which was discovered in 1921 in Henan Province. The culture flourished mainly in the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi.
The Yangshao people cultivated millet extensively; some villages also cultivated wheat or rice. They kept such animals as pigs and dogs, as well as sheep, goats, and cattle, but much of their meat came from hunting and fishing. Their stone tools were polished and highly specialized. The Yangshao people may also have practiced an early form of silkworm cultivation.
The Yangshao culture is well-known for its painted pottery. Yangshao artisans created fine white, red, and black painted pottery with human facial, animal, and geometric designs. Unlike the later Longshan culture, the Yangshao culture did not use pottery wheels in pottery-making. Excavations found that children were buried in painted pottery jars.
The archaeological site of Banpo village, near Xi'an, is one of the best-known sites related to Yangshao culture.


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